Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Completion of the Holy Priesthood, and God's Mandatory Retirement Policy: Numbers 8-10

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

God continues his work of setting up the Levite priesthood as a holy people within the holy people of Israel by ordering Moses to parade all 22 000 of them before the porta-temple as a "wave offering." (This is taking the concept of the "wave" very loosely, unless Moses has very strong arms.) Naturally, there are some dead bulls involved.

God declares that the Levites alone have become "wholly" his people: from this point forward they will be his firstborn sons. And having purchased them, he further declares, he's now going to give them "as gifts" to Aaron's priestly family. The other Levites "will do the work at the Tent of Meeting" and make atonement for other Israelites.

This would seem to complete the basic structure of the new religious social order which God has been constructing for some time now. The Levites have formally crossed over from "Israelite" to "sacred" and, in doing so, been placed under the authority of the (thus far quite incompetent) high priest, Aaron.

Interestingly, God establishes a mandatory retirement age for the Levites. He drops the age at which they have to start working from 30 to 25 - no explanation is provided in the text for why this is done; he simply states the new age by divine decree - but adds that once they reach fifty years of age, "they must retire from their regular service and work no longer." Only the Levites seem to qualify for this retirement package - the other Israelites must presumably keep doing whatever they're doing until they drop dead of old age, unless their sons agree to take care of them in their final years. On the other hand, probably few people reached fifty years of age in a society such as this, so perhaps it wasn't a big deal.

Having completed this ritual, God instructs all the Israelites to celebrate the Passover meal (even the unclean ones may participate!) and to permit foreigners to participate as well, if they so choose. God's magic cloud sits over the porta-temple and glows at night so the Israelites have light. Every so often, the cloud will fly away, and the Israelites will follow it. The tribe appears to be on its way to the promised land again after this long delay to talk about laws and set up the priesthood. Just after they set off, God decides that Moses should have some special silver trumpets made for the priests, so that they can coordinate the movements of the tribe. Since in theory we have about two million people on the march here, that's probably a very good idea.